Society Research Helps Guide Family Policy
Socio-demographic changes have forced the architects of social policy to seek better family policy solutions for society’s new needs. The article is based on the findings of the 2003 study IPROSEC (Improving Policy Responses and Outcomes to Socio-Economic Challenges: changing family structures, policy and practice) funded as part of the European Commission’s Framework Programme 5 and conducted from 2000-2003. Eleven countries took part in the study, 8 of them EU members (Spain, Ireland, Italy, Greece, France, Sweden, Germany, United Kingdom) and three candidate states (Estonia, Poland, Hungary).
The IPROSEC study confirms that the most preferred mode of government intervention is one that takes into account today’s changed family structure. Permissive or “reactive” measures are in general more acceptable to families than measures that constrict freedom of choice. At the same time, it is not uncommon for goals set in policy planning to differ from actual results, which can cause the reduction of the desired effect, unforeseen side effects or complete failure of the measure. This can be prevented by drawing on international comparative studies, which allow different measures applied in deciding family policy issues to be contrasted, their effectiveness gauged, and the etiology of any side effects analyzed.
It emerged from the study that there was no discernible causal effect between family policy measures and their results. The most effective family policy is one that is coherent and based on consensus and long-range strategies – in other words, a family policy in the wider sense, encompassing job market, educational and other polices. A narrow family policy aimed at raising the birth rate with subsidies has a short-term effect. Families expect the state to provide a sense of security, backed by full employment, guarantee of at least basic subsistence, and implementation of a laissez-faire, supportive family policy that offers maximum freedom of choice.